by Grace Leong
Calling all ski-bums! Sundance resort is firing up its chair lifts today for the 2007-2008 winter season.
An unusual dry spell may have delayed scheduled mid-November openings for many Utah ski resorts to early December, with the exception of Snowbasin and Solitude. But a heavy snow storm moving in this weekend is expected to usher in good conditions for skiers statewide and at Sundance, which is opening on schedule today.
"We're lucky to get the storm last weekend and this coming weekend as well," said Lucy Ridolphi, Sundance's spokeswoman. But the Provo resort isn't taking any chances, and has been cranking its snowmaking guns since mid November to meet its opening deadline. Sundance usually averages 350 inches of snowfall for the winter season.
"We have eight snow guns this year instead of six, which boosted our snowmaking capacity by 25 percent. We started making snow at the bottom of the mountain, and now have 12 inches of natural snow subsidized by several feet of man-made snow," said Jerry Warren, director of Sundance's mountain operations. "We've also expanded some of the 42 runs on our back mountain and the steep terrain that intermediate skiers can ski on."
"With the snow storm this weekend, we should be able to open more terrain soon," Warren said.
The National Weather Service issued storm warnings Thursday as a big Pacific storm wends its way into Utah, and is expected to drop as much as two feet of snow in the mountains and six inches in the northern valleys.
Sundance is offering a special rate for its opening to Midway on Ray's lift today. Lift ticket prices will be $20 for adults and $15 for children. After Friday, prices will be $45 for adults on weekends and holidays, $36 for half-days. Midweek rates for adults will be $35 for full-days and $28 for half-days. Prices for seniorsare $12, and $20 for children.
But Sundance isn't the only resort relying more heavily on its snow making guns this year.
Snowbird, for the first time in its 36 years of operation, opened with 100 percent man-made snow, said Laura Schaffer, the resort's spokeswoman. Snowbird, which had hoped to open the weekend after Thanksgiving, delayed its opening until Nov. 30. The resort fired up its 25 snow making machines after most of the 64 inches of snow it received in October melted.
Patton Murray, international sales and marketing manager for the Park City Chamber and Visitors Bureau, said the delayed openings of Park City Mountain and The Canyons to Nov. 21 and Nov. 24 respectively are expected to have minimal impact because the majority of their skier traffic typically starts in mid-December.
Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah, also downplayed the impact of the delayed resort openings and disappointing snowfall so far this season. "A week or two of delays won't make much impact on the overall ski season. As long as the resorts are up and running by Christmas, we'll be in good shape," he said. Starting this weekend, 11 of Utah's 13 ski resorts will be open.
“We're expecting one to two feet of snow (Thursday night) and we have a couple of other storms stacked up for the week after that. After this weekend's storm, we expect to have all of the resorts open,” Rafferty said.
Like the other ski resorts in Utah, Alta at Little Cottonwood Canyon is eagerly anticipating this weekend's snow storm.
“We didn't have the freezing temperatures needed to make snow in November. We had 56 inches of snowfall in October contributing to our base snow. But much of it has melted,” said Connie Marshall, spokeswoman of Alta at Little Cottonwood Canyon, which opened on Nov. 30 instead of Nov. 16 as was planned. She remained optimistic that the resort will receive its annual average of 500 inches of snowfall for the season.
Aggressive marketing of Utah's ski resorts and winter sports offerings, and a weakening U.S. dollar against other major international currencies, such as the Euro, are expected to bring more international and domestic skiers to Utah's slopes this winter.
About $2.1 million of $11 million in overall state tourism marketing funds for fiscal 2007 are allocated to promoting Utah's winter sports, said Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism.
"Our advertising and marketing promotions for Utah's ski resorts are up 30 percent in Germany," von der Esch said. "We're also aggressively marketing in Great Britain, Japan, Mexico, Canada and France. We expect Delta Airlines' direct flight to Paris to help attract more visitors from Europe, and the weak dollar will positively increase the number of international visitors to the state."
Several ski resorts including Park City Mountain resort, Deer Valley, Canyons and Snowbird have reported growing numbers of lodge inquiries from Brazil, England, Germany, Canada and Australia.
"With the dollar weakening, and Utah's consistent marketing efforts and ski conditions, we've noticed a growing number of visitors and inquiries from England, Germany, Brazil, Australia and Canada to our Park City resorts," Murray of the Park City Chamber and Visitors Bureau said. Sales of its 3-Resort international passes in Park City to German and Australian tourists doubled from 2005 to 2006.
"Three to five percent of our destination skiers are international visitors and that's a growing segment," he said. On average, international skiers spend between seven and 14 nights in Utah compared with five and seven nights for domestic skiers. Ski-related tourism contributed more than $700 million to Utah's economy during the 2006-07 winter season. Utah's ski and snowboard industry scored 4.08 million skier days during the 2006-07 winter season, becoming the third most skied state in the nation.